Amazon Alexa Adds Health Advice With Boston Children’s Hospital App

Xconomy Boston — 

Owners of Amazon’s voice-controlled, Internet-connected Echo speaker can ask it to play that catchy new song or find out whether they need to wear a rain coat today. And now, thanks to new software developed by Boston Children’s Hospital, users will be able to inquire if their child’s fever is serious enough that they should see a doctor.

Software developers have spent the past decade building more than a million apps for smartphone users to download from the Apple and Google app stores. Amazon has a long way to go to similarly grow its ecosystem of “skills”—Amazon’s name for the capabilities built into connected devices enabled by its Alexa voice assistant, which include the Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, and Amazon Fire TV. Since August, more than 500 skills have been created, Amazon Alexa director Rob Pulciani says in a press release.

But the company is starting to add more interesting and potentially useful features as its Alexa-powered products, particularly the Echo speaker, grow more popular among consumers. The software developed by Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH), dubbed “KidsMD,” is the first healthcare skill to launch on the Alexa devices.

“The KidsMD skill makes it easier to access medical information from Boston Children’s Hospital, a world-class medical institution,” Pulciani says in the release. “We’re looking forward to adding more important skills like this for our customers.”

The KidsMD software taps into cloud-based content from BCH doctors, allowing parents to ask Alexa a variety of questions about common maladies. For example, they could ask if a child’s fever, cough, sore throat, rash, vomiting, and other symptoms might warrant a call to the doctor. The software can also provide weight- or age-specific dosing guidelines for over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen.

Boston Children’s Hospital chief innovation officer John Brownstein hinted at the Amazon project in a recent interview with Xconomy. The hospital’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator team, led by Brownstein, developed the app. It’s part of a broader digital health push by BCH aimed at supporting in-house innovation and startups; forming more partnerships with outside tech companies, like IBM; and spreading the hospital’s expertise beyond its buildings in Boston.

With the Amazon project, BCH’s initial focus is on “providing educational information on common pediatric symptoms and guidance for at-home treatment,” says Jared Hawkins, the accelerator’s director of informatics, in the press release. “However, in the future we envision Alexa-enabled devices being a central point for the public to verbally interact with all of the educational content developed at Boston Children’s Hospital.”

The project also fits into bigger trends emerging in healthcare—the integration of digital tools, patients taking more proactive roles in their own care, and hospitals seeking ways to provide more value while lowering costs.

“Families will increasingly look to perform front-line health care triage with diagnostic mobile apps and devices and decision support applications,” says Nitin Gujral, the accelerator’s software development manager, in the release. “Connected home devices like Amazon’s Echo, Echo Dot, Fire TV, and Amazon Tap will begin to be used for intuitive healthcare delivery.”